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Alaska Moon Rocks
Dan Joling  /  AP
Alaska State Museum curator of collections Steve Henrikson shows a plaque containing an Alaska flag below moon rocks encased in acrylic glass on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, at Anchorage School District offices in Anchorage, Alaska.
By
updated 12/6/2012 8:38:00 PM ET 2012-12-07T01:38:00

A display of moon rocks that disappeared from an Alaska museum after an arson fire nearly four decades ago has been returned to the state following the settlement of a lawsuit by a man who claimed he rescued the rocks from the rubble.

State and federal officials at a news conference Thursday displayed the returned relic — tiny moon rocks encased in a golf ball-size acrylic glass ball and mounted on a walnut plaque above a small Alaska flag that traveled to the moon aboard Apollo 11.

President Richard Nixon presented the plaque to Alaska Gov. Keith Miller in 1969. It was on display at the Alaska Transportation Museum in 1973 when an arsonist torched the building. Witnesses remembered seeing the plaque intact, but it disappeared until the foster son of the transportation museum director made a claim of ownership in 2010.

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Coleman Anderson, a vessel captain who appeared in early episodes of the Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch," said he had rescued the moon rocks. He sued for clear title but said he would be willing to sell them to the state. State officials questioned Anderson's account and countersued.

"We were eventually able to persuade the plaintiff that he should dismiss this case," said Assistant Attorney General Neil Slotnick, who compiled evidence in the lawsuit.

The state was armed with witness accounts that the moon rocks survived the fire and were not lumped with debris.

"Many times I feel that plaintiffs are asking for the moon," Slotnick said. "This is the first time that that was literally true."

Anderson's attorney, Daniel P. Harris, said from Seattle that Anderson wanted a determination of the rocks' ownership and authenticity. Like anyone, Harris said, Anderson would've liked to be paid.

"He recovered those moon rocks. Without him, who knows where they could be or whether they would exist today. But in the end, the state was unwilling to pay any reward," Harris said. "It just was not worth Coleman's time or money to fight the state on that."

Alaska Moon Rocks
Dan Joling  /  AP
Assistant Alaska Attorney General Neil Slotnick displays a decades-old photo of moon rocks presented to the state of Alaska.

Anderson, who now lives in Texas, relinquished his claim to the rocks in September. Alaska State Museum curator of collections Steve Henrikson took possession of the plaque Wednesday and flew it to Alaska.

He said the rocks will be displayed at the State Museum through December and likely will be made available for showings around Alaska.

Nixon believed it took an effort by the entire world to put a man on the moon, and he gave moon rocks collected by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren to every state and country, Henrikson said.

Alaska is not the only recipient of Nixon's generosity that has lost track of its moon rocks. Nicaragua's ended up with a Las Vegas collector. A sample given to Ireland may have been buried with debris from a fire. And a moon rock at a natural history museum on the island nation of Malta was stolen.

Anderson was 17 when fire destroyed the transportation museum. His stepfather was Phil Redden, the curator. Anderson claimed he entered the "debris area" as crews removed garbage, discovered the moon rock plaque covered by melted materials, and took it home.

State risk manager John George recorded seeing the rocks undamaged. A former museum employee, Janie Barry, testified in a deposition that she, too, saw that rocks intact. She said she saw Redden, the curator, leave the damaged building with the moon rocks and that he intended to take them home for safekeeping.

The FBI used photographic analysis to confirm Anderson's display was the one Nixon had handed to Gov. Miller.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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